Monday, August 9, 2010

2010 Lake Antoine Classic

As part of my marathon training, I had planned to carve out three weeks where I could specifically focus on this race. I had the luxury of doing all of my tempo runs on the course as it is run on the trails around Fumee Lake in Iron Mountain, MI. My wife Laura and I had spent the previous six weeks in Iron Mountain and she had just flown home for work so I put much energy into this race. I had been sticking to my mantra of late where I was training with less volume but a higher percentage of quality during my runs. I had a good race plan and was ready.

The temperatures were very cool in the early morning hours but were up to the upper 60's by race time at 9am. That may seem cold to Southern standards but we have had some great morning weather for running lately in Michigan so this felt a little warm. Standing at the start line it is always tough to determine who is the tough competition and being an out-of-town race for me, I didn't recognize many people. After the gun and within the first 50 meters it was clear who I's be running with.

Leading the pack was Jake Keehan, a stellar runner from UW-Oshkosh who I have run against before. Jake is a real good guy and works for Fleet Feet Fox Valley and luckily today he was running the 5 mile race, else he would have pounded me into submission. I was closely tucked behind Jake as we left the park but as the two races split at the next intersection, I began to run the tangent toward the opposite corner. I was followed stride for stride by a younger runner wearing a singlet from St. Olaf College. We made the corner off the pavement and turned onto the two-track trail that lead back toward Fumee Lake. Our first mile was split a little faster than I had planned, hitting the mid 5's when I was thinking about taking it out at 6:00 and picking it up from there. Having competition at this race meant a total change from plan and it was no longer about running my projected time, but about winning.

Just after the first mile he mentioned that it was a nice day for a trail run. We made some small talk before turning around the gate at the end of the snowmobile trail and heading down to the lake loop. I ran through the first aid station, not taking any fluids per plan. We continued on, running side by side at times, and with him closely drafting behind me. As the course was rolling through miles 2 and 3 the pace drifted a little but was fairly steady and by the time we had a third of the race in the books, we had averaged 5:45 pace.

Running this pace wasn't easy but with all of the hard running I had been doing, it wasn't overly difficult. The only concern I had was that my tempo runs had not been overly long in distance and I wondered how long I would be able to hold onto this pace. We continued to run together, at times so closely that he would either bump my (wild) arm swing, or kick the underside of my foot, like cross country. We continued to talk a little and as we veered left on the gravel road section toward the cone turn around, we chatted some more. He turned out to be a pretty nice kid and finally I asked for his name. He was Anders Nienstaedt and although he was from Iron Mountain, he ran track and cross at Kingsford, which was my alma mater. He said something that was very cool and although I will probably botch it in memory, but he said that it was nice to be racing with me and have competition for the race. After the cone, the first person that we saw was fellow friend Drew Richmond of Iron Mountain. Drew was running strong in third, but was a few minutes behind so I knew that it was me versus Anders for the win.

Knowing that Anders was running for St. Olaf, I knew that I was overmatched but was giving it everything I had. My parents and some immediate family were waiting at the finish line and this race meant a lot to me, as it was the last race of the summer spent at home in Upper Michigan and I wanted to add my name to the list of runners to have won both distances at the "Classic." I had won the 5 miler in 2008 and was also trying to avenge a 2nd place finish in the 15km two years before that. Regardless, I was hitting it hard and there was no doubt when this race was over, I would have nothing left.

We splashed through some mud on the south side of the Lake and joked about it. It was a very friendly atmosphere and the longer we ran, the more he earned my respect. His focus was the 8km so this was longer than his normal race but he was staying tight with me. The pace slipped a little as we ran through 10km but the average was still below 6 minute miles. I was starting to think that I might be running at personal record pace if I could just hold on to anything beloe 55:40. It is tough to have a decent 15km PR when you live and race in Huntsville as the only race of the distance in the immediate area is the hilly and tough Monte Sano 15km road race. The face that I was holding on to that pace on this morning, given the rolling terrain, loose gravel and soft sand on trails made me feel great; the training was really paying off.

Most of the race had been shaded but we had two short sections in the blazing sun before coming off of the lake loop. I had been focusing on the north side of the lake, but had a recent strong run on the south side, which was where we were at during a mostly downhill mile 7. I should have been hitting on all cylinders but instead I was starting to struggle a bit. Thoughts of pushing the pace late were now fleeting and near the 7.5 mile mark, Anders began to pick it up. In reality I think that it was a combination of him sensing that the pace had slowed and instead of slowing with me, he ran steady and I fell off even more. For the first time all day, I was out of the lead and within a few seconds, out of contention. I told him good luck and then we separated, although I would continue to see him just out of reach for the rest of the race.

I had a tough time climbing the gravel road out of the lake loop and back to the snowmobile trail; the hill really took a toll on me and it was hard to get back down to target pace. A 6:23 in mile 8 was tough to swallow, but I still had a decent shot at a personal best. I ran back through the gate and saw Jake, who after this outright win, had changed and jogged back out onto the course to cheer us on. He gave me some encouraging words and I marched on. I knew that I had to be around 54 minutes flat at the 9 mile mark to have a shot. That would mean 5:12 pace or better in the final push and despite laying it all out on the line, I just didn't have anything left in the tank. I finished just off the time at 55:42 and 2nd overall. I know because of the way I ran this race that I made my parents proud and I am sure that Laura was equally proud from afar.

I can't complain as after friending Anders on Facebook, I discovered that he had run a 4:05.74 for 1500 meters just a few months prior, so he had me dead to rights the entire race. It was great to push each other and even though he said that I was leading the way, he really was just running tempo pace and then had plenty left late in his young legs start a long 2 mile kick to the end. I give him much props as I gave it my best shot and he won going away. Drew ran well after the turn and finished 3rd, sneaking in just under an hour at 59:59. My other local running buddy Steve Orchard ran strong in the 5 mile, finishing 2nd overall at age 50.

My gear for this race was perfect. I was wearing my new inov-8 x-talon 212's. I had feared that the tread would be too aggressive for this course but with the footing would have been miserable without them. They were so light that the made the fast miles feel easy and after sloshing through the mud, they dried out quickly and I never slowed because of it. I was also wearing the 2XU Compression Calf Guards and never had any calf fatigue. They always get some funny looks, especially at a small race like this, but they were so effective and I can't see racing without them.

Now back to training for California International Marathon and Comrades 2011!